The Merry-go-round in the Sea

May 10, 2007 at 9:03 am Leave a comment

Back to Stow. This one is lovely. I read it a long time ago and had forgotten almost everything about it. It’s just so much fun to read – the sounds, the smells, the sorts of things a child would notice. It made me remember a big tree in my Aunt’s garden that’s covered in these purple berry things, which also used to cover us. Here’s a sample:

In every season the boy exalted in his senses, in his body. He exulted in the heavy sweetness of jonquils and in the frail scent of tomato leaves; in the harsh rasp of leaves on his skin as he climbed a figtree, and in the waxy dusty smoothness of the minute datepalm flowers; in the cold sea of early morning, and in the warm sea under the rain. He loved the rough taste of gumleaves and the sweetness in tecoma flowers; the red jewels in pomegranates, and the shells of rainbow beetles in the grey tuart bark (p. 125).

It’s also very sad, because there’s the second world war going on in the background, a long way away, and the narrator’s dear cousin Rick is a prisoner of war. He comes home, but never really gets over it. He doesn’t belong any more. Apart from some delightful portrayals of aging aunts and grandmothers, the book is very masculine, and there’s a tension in some of the relationships linked with Rick’s huge grief. It reminded me of the end of my favourite poem by Stow, ‘Ishmael’:

– and what have I to leave, but this encumbering
tenderness, like gear forever unclaimed.

Gives me shivers every time. The book’s also very funny. Here’s something for all you Brits who tease us for being colonial:

Nobody wanted to be a Pommy. Pommies might be gallant in wartime, but they had an unfortunate ancestry. They were descended from all the people who had declined to found America and Canada and South Africa and New Zealand and Australia. They were born non-pioneers (p. 224).



Entry filed under: Randolph Stow.

Asleep in a book New Books

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